The transition from a pandemic-shortened 2020 season to the full schedule this year has been difficult for players and organizations in general, but it’s also created cognitive dissonance for fans. And that’s taking into account the strong tendency toward knee-jerkery among that latter group. When the Cubs came out of the gate cold, it was an indictment of manager David Ross that had people calling for Jed Hoyer to post a garage sale sign at 1060 W. Addison.
What Ross and the Cubs have done over the last few weeks, however, is giving pessimistic observers from Winnetka to Warsaw — even those without access to Marquee Sports Network — reason to rethink their opinions. The bullpen hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight games and previously cold hitters have thawed, leading to better outcomes in games that could have gone either way.
After losing six of seven to close out April, the Cubs are 13-6 with a +30 run differential in May and have completed a sweep of the Dodgers in addition to series wins over the Pirates, Tigers, Nationals, and Cardinals. All six of those losses were by one run, as were six of the wins, and several of the contests have extended beyond regulation.
A lot of that can certainly be chalked up to some combination of luck and timing, but Ross deserves a lot of credit for staying the course and making little tweaks here and there to adjust on the fly.
“I’m no genius in figuring out what was going on, just tried to mix some things up,” Ross told Sahadev Sharma and other media members in St. Louis. “When you see production, it opens up your eyes to some more possibilities or things that you like about the group and how to set them up for success. Whether that’s in the lineup, on the field defensively, or even in the bullpen.”
As the manager alluded to there, it helps tremendously when Jake Marisnick steps up to hit better than Ian Happ had been. Then it helps when Happ catches fire upon his activation from the IL. Or when Matt Duffy starts driving in runs with a contact approach, allowing Kris Bryant to spend more than a month playing the outfield as several regulars hit the shelf. Or when Javier Báez hits .279 with a team-leading five homers and 12 RBI so far in May, the most recent of which put the Cubs on top Sunday night.
“[Ross has] been positive, he’s been the same,” Báez explained. “He’s been trying to figure out what we gotta get better at, and it’s working. We’re still going to get ups and downs during the season and it’s still going to be a long season. Longer than everyone thinks.”
Even if the early downs were deeper and more frequent than even the naysayers would have believed possible, it appears as though the Cubs have turned their shovels to filling in the grave that had been dug for them. Whether it’s the oft-discussed core players whose collective future remains unknown or the rookie relievers who’ve excelled in high-leverage situations right from the start, this team is getting contributions from all angles.
That’s not something we saw early on as offensive futility meant too many L’s on the schedule. At the risk of upsetting the more dour emotional fashionistas among you with my rose-colored glasses, this unit is starting to look a little like the one from 2015 that finally made baseball fun again on the North Side. I don’t necessarily mean to say I think they’re title contenders, just that they’re finding ways to win and they’re having fun doing it.
They’re going to need to keep that up as May comes to a close because things don’t get any easier in June. The Cubs transition from one month to the next with three at home against the Padres, then head to San Francisco for four before a rematch with the Padres in San Diego. Then the Cardinals come to down for a brief homestand, at which point the standings could look wholly different.
The story of the season could change again by then just as it has from two weeks ago, so maybe I’ll be rending my garments and sitting in the ashes if that happens. I don’t think it will, though, as it feels like the Cubs are legit and can continue to hang with good teams throughout the season. And if that remains the case throughout the next two months, Hoyer and Tom Ricketts are going to have some interesting decisions on their hands.